‘Empowerment and change’: Area youth kick off mission to renovate rec center in East Cleveland

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EAST CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Last July, Christin Farmer walked into the East Cleveland Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center for the very first time.

She was there to pick up her son's football equipment, but thought she was in the middle of a construction site.

"There was caution tape, there were cones all over the gym," said Farmer. "I saw there were people sitting in here and playing in here. I was appalled and shocked. I was outraged."

She posted video online, catching the attention of East Cleveland RISE, a youth-led initiative aimed at revitalizing the city. And six months to the day after she first walked into the gym, Farmer was joined by nearly 100 volunteers with hammers and crowbars in hand, ready to help tear out the old and build up a new version of what's called a "beacon of light" in the East Cleveland community.

The kick-off was chosen to take place on MLK Day of Service.

East Cleveland RISE was joined by the Birthing Beautiful Communities and community leaders to kick off a renovation project at the rec center,  after spending several months planning and collecting donations. Monday's pre-renovations  will save the city nearly $120,000. The entire project will cost roughly $500,000.

As part of the renovation project, the flooring  will be removed and replaced in the center's giant auditorium. Much of the basketball courts there were scratched and bowing in places. The center's annex will also be redone to provide a lounge-type setting where kids can do their homework and have somewhere safe to hang out. There will be a new computer room and a kitchenette, where kids can stop in and get a snack.

Faz Rahmon is a commercial painter who traveled all the way from Tennessee to help with Monday's work. He's from Northeast Ohio, and said when he found out about the project, he knew he wanted to be a part of it.

"I hope it brings a sense of empowerment and enlightenment and change," he said. "It's giving energy back to the community, this is our community and it takes a community to build a community. I love the fact it's the youth that's spearheading it. When you see the youth want to give back, that should touch anyone to give back."

T.J. Square, a Shaw High School student, is one of those youth volunteers.

He said basketball is the most important thing in his life, so when heard about the possibility of fixing the gym so kids could play basketball again, he knew he wanted to get involved.

"It really hit a big spot in my heart," he said. "So I just really wanted to help out, to make sure people could come here and play basketball, especially because there are a lot of people in this neighborhood."

While the project started Monday, the work will continue. To get involved by volunteering or by donating, click here. 


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